By John Fallon
It was a disappointing end to a game Connacht should have won to get the Andy Friend era off to a winning start, but there was enough on offer at the Sportsground to suggest that after two years of going backwards, the 2016 champions are poised to build again.
Improvements will be required in defence and on restarts if that promise is to be delivered upon and Friend will need to instil a killer instinct if they are to become a force again.
They were nine points up when Glasgow had out-half Adam Hastings binned but Connacht didn’t take advantage. Indeed, the Scots, who have now won in the Sportsground on the opening day for three years running, cut the gap to two while down a man and then the outstanding Stuart Hogg used all his experience to fashion a late win.
Connacht had a couple of chances to snatch it but Craig Ronaldson was off target with an ambitious drop goal from distance — the match officials missed Hogg taking the ball back into his in-goal area and touching down — and then saw a penalty from 45m on the right graze the wrong side of the left post in the final play of a highly entertaining game.
“That’s what we have to stop, you don’t see that with championship sides.
“Now, it hasn’t been a feature throughout pre-season. I thought our defence pre-season has been excellent. We just have to look at why that happened, at why we allowed that happen today.
“Second half, we fixed it and looked much, much better. They went 28 phases at one stage, which is brilliant defence.”
Jack Carty was superb at out-half for Connacht and with new captain Jarrad Butler leading by example and Cian Kelleher looking sharp outside a solid centre partnership of Kyle Godwin and Tom Farrell, Connacht deservedly led 23-17 at the break.
That was after conceding a try to Tommy Seymour after just 63 seconds but Carty picked out Kelleher with a superb crosskick, while a neat skip pass from Caolin Blade put tighthead Finlay Bealham in for their second try after 22 minutes.
Carty’s sixth successful kick made it 26-17 three minutes after the restart but they failed to score after that and paid the price in the end.
Scorers for Connacht: C Kelleher, Bealham tries; J Carty 2 cons, 4 pens.
Scorers for Glasgow: T Seymour, G Turner, R Wilson, A Ashe tries; A Hastings 1 con, S Hogg 1 con, 1 drop goal.
CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; C Kelleher, K Godwin, T Farrell, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham; U Dillane, J Cannon; P Boyle, J Butler, E McKeon.
Replacements: C Gallagher (for McKeon 14), Q Roux (for Cannon 48), N Adeolokun (for O’Halloran 53), P McCabe (for Buckley 53), C Carey (for Bealham 56), C Ronaldson (for Carty 66), S Delahunt (for Heffernan 75), J Mitchell (for Blade 75).
GLASGOW: S Hogg; T Seymour, N Grigg, P Horne, DTH Van Der Merwe; A Hastings, G Horne; O Kebble, G Turner, Z Fagerson; S Cummings, J Gray; R Harley, C Gibbins, R Wilson.
Replacements: F Brown (for Turner 48), N Frisby (for G Horne 48), C Fusaro (for Cummings 52), N Matawalu (for Van Der Merwe 53), A Allan (Kebble 56), A Dunbar (for P Horne 56), A Ashe (for Wilson 63), D Rae (for Fagerson 72), R Wilson (for Fusaro 79, blood).
Ref: I Davies (WRU).